On July 14, Pakistan Army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] released a rather stern statement that read, “The Armed Forces of Pakistan have serious concerns on the safe havens and liberty of action available to TTP in Afghanistan”.
Alleging that “The involvement of Afghan nationals in acts of terrorism in Pakistan is another important concern that needs to be addressed”, ISPR went as far as conveying an undisguised threat by stating that “Such attacks are intolerable and would elicit effective response from the Security Forces of Pakistan” [Emphasis added].
Though ISPR hasn’t specifically attributed these comments to Pakistan Army chief Gen Syed Asim Munir, its tone and tenor leave no room for any doubts that these are indeed his thoughts. Given the fact that just two days earlier, the Pakistan Army had suffered its most serious setback in recent times, his exasperation that resulted in such a vitriolic outburst is understandable.
Readers would recall that on July 12, the Pakistan Army lost 12 soldiers in South Western Balochistan. While nine soldiers were killed when Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] terrorists stormed an army base in Zhob district, three soldiers lost their lives when Baloch Liberation Army fighters targeted an army convoy in Sui. This was the largest single day fatalities suffered by Pakistan Army in recent time
This incident surely would have come as a major embarrassment for Gen Munir, because in the very first corps commanders’ conference that he chaired after taking over as the army chief it was pompously announced that the forum had “resolved to fight against terrorists without any distinction and eliminate this menace as per the aspirations of the people of Pakistan”.
However, while the Pakistan Army has been conducting what it refers to as ‘intelligence based operations’ [IBOs] against terrorists and claiming that many terrorists “have been sent to hell”, yet there’s no discernable improvement in the security situation. While TTP and Baloch fighters continue targeting Pakistani security forces with impunity, Islamic State-Khorasan [IS-K] too has also joined in by carrying out a suicide bombing that killed 54 civilians in Bajaur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP] province on Jul 30.
Gen Munir’s threat of an “effective response from the Security Forces of Pakistan” is yet to materialise. On August 22, Dawn carried a reassuring news report about “state-to-state” talks between Islamabad and Kabul and quoted Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP] Counter Terrorism Department [CDT] chief Additional Inspector General Shaukat Abbas confirming that “very serious negotiations are underway“.
But just hours later, at least six Pakistan Army soldiers were killed during a “skirmish” with TTP terrorists in the Asman Manza area of South Waziristan district, indicating that the much hyped ‘state to state’ talks between Islamabad and Kabul was mere theatrics! And it seems that the same is also true for Gen Munir’s threat of “effective response from the Security Forces of Pakistan”.
August has been a particularly bad month for Rawalpindi. With TTP killing one junior commissioned officer and eight soldiers nine days after the deadly Asman Manza attack, this month becomes the one in which the Pakistan Army has suffered the highest number of casualties since 2014. Unfortunately, September too hasn’t started off too well as on the very first day of this month, the Pakistan Army has lost one Major and two soldiers in terrorist attacks along the Pak-Afghan border. So, if Islamabad is sanguine that “terrorists who shed the blood of Pakistanis can find refuge on Afghan soil”, then isn’t it evident that the Taliban government in Kabul is doing precious little to address Islamabad’s concerns about TTP sanctuaries on Afghanistan soil with the seriousness and sincerity it deserves?
Gen Munir has been quoted as saying that Pakistan’s armed forces were seriously concerned about the “safe havens and liberty of action” TTP has in Afghanistan. While Kabul has claimed that Afghan Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada has announced that “If anyone goes outside of Afghanistan for the goal of ‘jihad’, it won’t be called jihad”, it’s apparent that TTP has not heeded this message. So, with diplomatic means to resolve this grave issue yielding no results, doesn’t it become incumbent on Rawalpindi to consider the military option of striking TTP bases inside Afghanistan?
With the Pakistan Army admitting that it has lost more than 100 soldiers in terrorist related incidents since the beginning of this year, isn’t it high time Rawalpindi struck at the very fountainhead of TTP terror and targeted its leadership rather than being content with sending a handful of low level fighters to “Hell”? What is holding back Rawalpindi from taking decisive action to ensure security of its own rank and file is incomprehensible!
Even though he may be at the right place, Gen Munir is still an unlucky Army chief as he is there at the wrong time. By portraying TTP as an Indian proxy being helped by US backed regimes in Kabul, his predecessors and denying its large scale presence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP] had avoided public censure for the Pakistan Army’s failure to decimate this terrorist group. However, with Rawalpindi’s protégé Taliban now in the seat of power in Kabul and TTP running riot in KP, this excuse is no longer convincing.
Many opine that the Pakistan Army’s top leadership is not mentally inclined to take the battle against TTP to its logical conclusion for a host of reasons, the main being that it may necessitate targeting TTP hideouts on Afghanistan soil. It appears that Rawalpindi has been intimidated by its former ally and Taliban’s current interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani’s veiled threat that “If they [Pakistan Army] want to solve the [TTP] issue through force in Afghanistan, the two nations that have a lot in common, will be harmed”.
Accordingly, it’s likely that Gen Munir’s threat that if Taliban fails to rein-in TTP then these “intolerable attacks would draw an effective response,” was made with the intention of playing to the domestic gallery. While this may or may not be true, Rawalpindi’s ambivalence in taking the TTP menace by its horns does support this inference!
So as TTP attacks against the Pakistani security forces continue unabated, it seems all that Rawalpindi can do is to placate the terrorism weary of Pakistan by repeating its hollow pledge that “Security forces of Pakistan are determined to eliminate the menace of terrorism and such sacrifices of our soldiers further strengthen our resolve!”.